April 8, 2009

San Diego State begins anew with Hoke

The Mountain West enjoyed unprecedented success in 2008, with Utah going undefeated and TCU and BYU finishing the year in the top 25.

Someone forgot to tell San Diego State.

Extending their postseason drought to a decade, the Aztecs went 2-10 and didn't beat a conference opponent until the last game of the season. After Chuck Long went 9-27 in three seasons, he was fired, and San Diego State officials hope new blood will revive the program.

Brady Hoke arrives on campus after going 12-2 at Ball State last season. Hoke brings with him some coaching clout in former New Mexico coach Rocky Long as defensive coordinator and former Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges in the same position.

Here's a look at the Aztecs as they begin spring drills. They are the final team to open practice this year.

san diego state AT-A-GLANCE
Ryan Lindley returns at QB for the Aztecs.
Coach: Brady Hoke
Last season: 2-10, 1-7 Mountain West
Spring dates: April 8-May 2
Offense (7): G Ikaika Aken-Moleta, WR Vincent Brown, RB Atiyyah Henderson, C Trask Iosefa, QB Ryan Lindley, T Peter Nelson, WR Roberto Wallace.
Defense (7): LB Luke Laolagi, T Jerome Long, CB Aaron Moore, LB Andrew Preston, S Nick Sandford, E Jonathan Soto, E B.J. Williams.
Special teams (2): P Brian Stahovich, K Lane Yoshida.
Positions of strength

Hoke will have a returning starting quarterback on his roster as well as two of the top three receivers. Quarterback Ryan Lindley passed for 2,653 yards and 16 touchdowns last season but must improve his accuracy. Five of the top six receivers return, including Vincent Brown and Roberto Wallace, who combined for 95 catches and 1,036 yards.

Help is needed

The defensive line returns three starters, including B.J. Williams (10.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks), but this group needs work. Three linemen left the program, leaving San Diego State with depth issues. Because of the thin front line and Long's aggressive style, the Aztecs could tinker with a 3-3-5 defense during the spring. The Aztecs also expect to be young on the offensive line, especially at left guard and right tackle.

Keep an eye on

LB Jerry Milling: He had 28 tackles in the first four games last year before a foot injury ended his season. Linebacker is expected to be the strength of the defense, especially if Milling, a senior, is ready to go.

S Nick Sandford: Sandford, a senior, started nine games at cornerback, free safety and strong safety last season, when he had 44 tackles before missing the final three games. Hopes are high he can flourish in Long's new attacking style of defense.

WR DeMarco Sampson: Sampson, a senior, never has produced in line with his potential. He played in 2005 before missing the next two seasons with an injury. After catching 11 passes in 2008, he's looking to crack the rotation.

His time is now

The Aztecs return their top two running backs, Atiyyah Henderson and Brandon Sullivan, but that doesn't necessarily inspire confidence. They combined for only 675 yards last season. Borges brings a two-back, power running game to San Diego State. Henderson and Sullivan must prove they can be more physical in the new scheme.

The buzz

Hoke went 22-37 at Ball State before going 12-0 in the regular season last year, so he knows how to deal with a rebuilding job. San Diego State is one of the nation's biggest underachievers, but the program has reason for optimism, starting with the coaching staff. Long went 65-69 in 11 seasons at New Mexico and Borges is a two-time finalist for the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation's top assistant. The coaches know the work that's ahead of them and they know it won't be finished this spring.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.



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